Whaddya bring back from your trip? A souvenir to last forever!

Linda Griffiths would say she¹s a changed woman, that every day she is touched by the memory of some aspect of a journey she made six months ago. It’s taken that long for the experience to ‘settle’ in its significance. It’s taken that long for Linda and I to find the right time to share the

And this weekend, with Easter and all its significance upon us, seems the appropriate time.

Linda’s journey really began four years ago at an International Women’s Day event in Orillia. She listened to Sue Kenny share her experience on the El Camino (The Path, or The Way), a 780 kilometre walk from France, across the northern portion of Spain to the city of Santiago in the northwest. The ultimate destination is the cathedral at Santiago. As Linda listened she
was intrigued by Sue’s experience.

She has never thought of herself as a person who could challenge her body. With both legs broken in a car accident years ago, Linda has never been strong as a runner, a swimmer, a cycler… but she wondered if she prepared for this, could she do the walk. She decided to go.

She joined a gym. She got a personal trainer. She began disciplined walking with The Running Room. She began to get her 60-something body [her description] ready to walk the last portion of El Camino, 275 kilometres from Astorga, Spain to Santiago.

Her friend, Judy, expressed an interest and the two headed off for a three week experience. They went for three, and walked for two. Linda flew to Amsterdam, and on to Madrid (she fell in love with Madrid) and then by bus to Astorga. She started from an albergue (a hostel) in Astorga where she linked up with friends from Aurora who had already been walking for two weeks.

While the group walked together, Linda was quite definite that she wanted to walk behind, alone, without pressure and in silence. Doing 20 kms a day (think Barrie to Cookstown), she would spend four-to-six hours walking, starting early in the morning. Along the way, she’d pick up yogurt, bread, cheese, fruit, olives–always olives–and chocolate and picnic along the way. She carried everything for the trip on her back, a pack that included sleeping bag, and two changes of clothes. Every night was wash night. With a 16-pound pack on her back, she had pared her possessions down to the bare nminimum. Though she carried rain gear, for three miraculous weeks, there was no rain. Hiking boots, running shoes and socks rounded out the pack.

This experience is officially called a pilgrimmage, and participants need a Pilgrim Passport to start the journey. And the pilgrimmage can be whatever you want, or need, it to be. It can focus on faith, on culture, on history, on recreation, on amusement, on religion. For Linda, it was a spiritual
pilgrimmage and an adventure in self discovery. She wanted to be totally present to all she saw and felt and she wanted to experience it in silence.

“The good part is that by walking by myself, at the end of the group, it was a wonderful time of meditation. The bad part is that all my pictures show people from the back!”

The route is varied… since Spain is Europe¹s second most mountainous country (after Switzerland) the terrain is rugged. The mountains are very beautiful and very green. The path winds through vineyards, though forests, beside two-lane highways and along secondary roads. It goes through villages and towns. And it’s a path people have been walking for centuries.

Linda describes arriving at the Santiago Cathedral, the burial place of St. James, the apostle. An enormous building which opens onto a huge square, its doors are 20 feet high. Inside the Cathedral is a long, long aisle and daily the numbers of pilgrims are announced at a noon service. A huge pipe
organ ensures that music swells the soul.

While this pilgrimmage route was most popular in the 11th and 12th centuries, Linda says that as you walk, there are usually people ahead and behind you. She met people from at least 20 different countries. There were many women making this trip on their own, without fear. Not everybody walks. Some bike. Some ride on horseback. Some have their larger suitcases sent on ahead by courier.

But for Linda, the simplicity of carrying what she needed became her goal.

As she looks back, her journey takes on significance of a different form. It’s settling.

“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself. It gave me confidence. It gave me time to think things through in terms of my faith. It’s very much with me on a daily basis.”

As the immediacy of Linda¹s experience turns into long range impact, she’s been connecting with others who have done the journey. She’s been asked to speak about it to a women’s group. The library has booked her for a presentation in September.

Very likely, during her description of her experience, someone will listen and decide, “I¹m going to do that. I can walk.”

Thanks, Linda.